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With this exhibition the Deutsche Guggenheim presents to European audiences a relatively unknown aspect of the American painter and Abstract Expressionist: Jackson Pollock’s graphic works.
During his brief, yet brilliant career, Pollock produced approximately seven hundred works on paper in a variety of traditional drawing mediums — pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage — as well as, toward the end of his life, poured enamel. At the time of his first one-person exhibition, in the Daylight Gallery of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in November 1943, the artist chose to exhibit both paintings and drawings. This may have been partly due to practical considerations, as smaller works tended to attract ready sales. However, the primary motivation was Pollock’s conviction that his paintings on canvas and his works on paper deserved equal attention as expressions of his artistic aims. From this exhibition on, at least half of his solo shows during his lifetime included approximately equal numbers of paintings and works on paper.



Portrait of the Artist, 1951
© Arnold Newman/ Liaison Agency/ Getty Images


Generally, the stylistic development of Pollock’s drawings mirrors that of his paintings, and four loosely grouped categories can be defined. The first, from circa 1935 to circa 1941, is characterized by figuration of both human and imaginary beings. It includes three accomplished sketchbooks that surfaced after his death and a group of unbound drawings that are most often connected to the psychoanalytical treatment the artist underwent in an attempt to deal with his alcoholism.



Untitled, c. 1939-42
Color crayon and pencil on paper, 38,3 x 28 cm
© Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005


The second stylistic grouping, a body of fully mature works dating between circa 1942 through 1947 and corresponding approximately to Pollock’s association with Peggy Guggenheim’s museum/gallery Art of This Century, is distinguished by an idiosyncratic iconography he developed in part as a response to Surrealist influences. Employing mythical subject matter, calligraphic markings, and a vibrant and distinctive color palette, Pollock produced emotionally charged paintings and works on paper that retain figurative subject matter yet emphasize abstract qualities.



Untitled, c. 1946
Gouache and pastel on wove paper, 57,2 x 78,1 cm
© Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005


Arising from this confluence of abstraction and figuration, the third stylistic set comprises Pollock’s breakthrough works, commonly perceived as pure abstraction and made over the course of a very explosive and intense period between 1947 and 1950. Here, not only did Pollock move away from a reliance on traditional figuration and subject matter, but he also broke free from the standard use of drawing and painting implements, usually abandoning their direct contact with the surface. Instead, he worked from distances above the picture plane, using dripping, pouring, and splattering techniques — methods that were not necessarily Pollock’s invention alone but that he pushed to new extremes.



Untitled, Green Silver, 1949
Enamel and aluminium paint on paper mounted on canvas, 57 x 78,2 cm
© Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2005


The fourth and final group represents a further refinement of Pollock’s pouring techniques. Here the drawings are still stylistically related to his works on canvas of the time, but whereas earlier drawings had a clear connection to larger canvases, these later drawings are distinct explorations that specifically exploit the qualities of working with fluid mediums on porous paper. Like the canvas paintings completed between 1950 and 1952, these drawings exhibit a more open, light ground scattered with lyrical compositions of calligraphic forms. The last four years of Pollock’s life — he died tragically in an automobile accident on August 11, 1956 — are almost devoid of drawings; correspondingly, his output of paintings also diminished.

Susan Davidson